Imagine a Saw movie today, but completely stripped of any blood, guts, or gore, any terrible language, a memorable central villain, yet however, more intriguing puzzles and entertainment value to distract the fact that you are not watching a torture porn film. That’s ESCAPE ROOM (this film is PG-13). And no, I’m not talking about the direct to video one that had Skeet Ulrich in it. I’m talking about the one that came out today with True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, and a bunch of other people you have probably never heard of. When going into the movie, I was expecting a “FUCK YOU, IT’S JANUARY” type of experience. But to my surprise, Escape Room did not deserve to be released this month, because it is actually better than it has any right to be.
I can’t lie and say this movie didn’t entertain me. It really did. So much so in fact that when it was over I was dazed by how fast the 99 minutes flew by. Not to say it’s the greatest January film ever or even one of the best of 2019 already, it was just “in the moment” fun. It’s a little too early to say if it has repetitive view type of merit. Other than the fact that I was shocked I actually liked this movie, I’m shocked this is a January film. When I all capped the phrase in the previous paragraph “FUCK YOU, IT’S JANUARY” (phrase was coined by the clever and hilarious guys over at RedLetterMedia.com), I was referring to how studios usually dump the films they don’t have a lot of confidence in this month. They do this to get the most out of a very slow month (Oscar viewing season is dwindling down) to get your box office bucks, and they think they can make more by doing this maneuver, rather than just selling to Netflix or going straight to video.
This film was too entertaining, and at times clever to be a January film. Maybe late March/early April or a Halloween film. The trailers sort of mis-market the movie as a horror film, with escape rooms actually killing you if you don’t solve the puzzles, but in actuality it is more of a thriller. I do have to give a hand to one part of the marketing, the fun parts of each escape room aren’t ruined in the trailers or TV spots at all. And that’s the best part of the movie, the puzzles in the escape room. I had a lot of fun trying to guess how to solve each room and mentally trying to telepathically send a message to these fictional characters on the big screen where to go and what to do. For a movie called Escape Room, it earns its title. And you cinephiles out there, yes, I know that there is a mid 90s movie called Cube that is a hard R futuristic type version of this film. I have seen it, and I like that one as well.
Also, before I get to the two things that kept this movie from being fantastic, let me give the movie one more shake of the hand. The characters weren’t two dimensional. With such a short 99 minute run time, I thought the cleverness of the escape rooms would be a distraction on how cookie cutter the characters personalities and actions would be. Nope, they manage to give backstories to all of the main escape room characters, and they all manage to work where you actually care about who lives or dies by the end of the movie. And all the acting in the movie was pretty top notch for what is was, in particularly from Deborah Ann Wall, Tyler Labine, and Logan Miller.
Now the two things that stop this film from being great, is the very beginning and the very end of the film. I promise no spoilers, but the beginning of the film does one of those devices that films do that I hate, which is show a later point in the movie, and then the title card pops up that says “# Days Earlier” and goes back to the real start of the film. I literally can’t stand anymore when films do that, because it only shows a character/couple of characters in that moment, so the tension is taken out of knowing that character at least won’t die until that point, and then you probably can then guess that the other characters are taken out earlier in the film. And now the ending, which I won’t spoil here either I promise. The ending felt too rushed. When everything that is going on is revealed I literally said out loud, “wait, that’s it?!” and then another passage in time title card appeared and I really just groaned. For a film with really clever escape room puzzles I was expecting more of a powerful punch of an ending. The ending isn’t horrible by any means. It is just 20 minutes worth of plot crammed into about 5 to 7 minutes. Some of the dialogue was hard to understand and I squinted my eyes and thought, “wait, what is happening?” It also sets up the obligatory sequel shit as well, and hopefully they take it in a actual sequel direction, unlike Saw which just did new characters every time and we cared less and less about them.
Anyway, yes, Escape Room is worth a watch and enjoyable. The theater was pretty packed at my screening and I think it might really do well for January. But this is a film best watched at home, with a group of friends (especially ones that you’ve been with to an actual real escape room), with all of you screaming out and talking about the rooms and how you would try and solve the puzzles. While this film is fun, will it end up being forgettable? That’s a riddle to be solved later.